Soaring tourism boom for eagle island

Whitetailed eagle on Mull Picture: Amanda Ferguson

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White-tailed eagles bring a tourism boost to Mull of between £4.9 million and £8m, according to a new survey.

The whopping figure is the tourist spend attracted annually by the birds and is a significant benefit to the island’s economy reveals the study commissioned by RSPB Scotland.

Up to 160 jobs are supported by this spend, with at least £2.1 m of it aiding local income.

The Economic Impact of White-Tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull study has also been reviewed by an academic and economist.

During the summer of 2019, 398 face-to-face survey interviews were carried out at five sites across Mull with 1,248 people.

RSPB Mull Officer Dave Sexton said: ‘Sea eagles have been a part of our lives here for more than 40 years and, quite rightly, they’re a daily part of the landscape now. But it’s clear they continue to attract many people from far and wide to this island – a  remarkable 29 per cent of those visitors surveyed said the possibility of seeing a sea eagle was a major factor in their decision to visit.

‘That’s an increase on the last similar survey in 2010 which is impressive given that sea eagles are now seen more frequently elsewhere in Scotland. The economic spend by those visitors remains a significant contributor to this island’s tourism economy as it could be for other parts of Scotland and the UK which provide a home for this spectacular bird of prey.’

The study is the third of its type on Mull, now allowing a comparison over
14 years of the increasing importance of white-tailed eagle tourism to the island’s economy.

Mull is home to 22 pairs of eagles. Tourism spend inspired by them has also increased since 2010 when it accounted for between £3 million and £5 million annually, which supported between 64 and 108 full time jobs and between £1.4 million and £2.4 million of local income each year.

White-tailed eagles used to be widespread across Scotland, but human persecution led to their extinction in 1918. A reintroduction programme began on the Isle of Rum in 1975 and in 1985 the first wild chick from the re-introduced population hatched on Mull.

Anne McCall, director, RSPB Scotland said: ‘Mull once again holds an important
breeding population of white-tailed eagles, which are an incredible tourism draw for the
island. This study makes clear the link between restoring nature and the local income
earning opportunities that arise from it. However, living with these birds can pose challenges for some and it’s important positive management protects both the birds and the livelihoods they can occasionally affect.’

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater says it is crucial Scotland’s bird of prey
populations, such as the white-tailed eagle, should continue to be supported and protected.

‘Carefully managed re-introductions such as this one on Mull, are not only positive for the natural world but also positive for our communities,’ she said.

Partnerships have been key to the success of the white-tailed eagle reintroduction in Mull including those between nature conservation organisations, funders, land managers and the local community. Back in 2000, the award-winning Mull Eagle Watch began to provide places where people could have great views of the birds without disturbing them, and is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Mull & Iona Community Trust and Forestry and Land.

In response to the new survey, NFU Scotland says while some agri-tourism businesses on Mull will have benefitted from the increased revenue the birds have brought to the island there are more farmers and crofters on the island who for more than 30 years will have found the Scottish sea eagle re-introduction very challenging to their livelihoods because of predation.

Group secretary Euan Warnock said: ‘The economic impact of live, healthy lambs being lost to the birds will have been considerable and will grow as bird numbers increase.

‘The significant growth in the population of white-tailed eagles across much of west and north Scotland will inevitably over time bring local agri-tourism benefits to the mainland. However, we need to ensure this is not at the expense of our farmers’ livelihoods.

‘The Sea Eagle stakeholder panel, which includes NFU Scotland, NatureScot and RSPB Scotland and others, is committed to working together to try and resolve all conflicts, balancing the conservation of sea eagles with the needs of farmers and crofters to sustainably rear livestock.’

A NatureScot spokesperson added: ‘NatureScot welcomes this report indicating that white-tailed eagles can have a positive economic impact in rural locations. We also recognise that white-tailed eagles can have direct economic impacts on sheep farming as a result of predation on lambs and sheep. We continue to work directly with sheep farmers and crofters through the Sea Eagle Management Scheme to try to reduce these impacts.’

Caption: A white-tailed eagle on Mull.
Photograph: Amanda Ferguson.